Safety Football Act presented at City Hall hearing

February 10, 2015 Jaime DeJesus
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Safety first.

Protecting young football players from permanent injury is what Councilmember Stephen Levin has been seeking to accomplish. In light of several concussions sustained on the little league football level, Levin has proposed the Youth Football Safety Act, legislation that would require doctors and athletic trainers to be present for every youth football game and practice played in New York City.

On Friday, January 23, the City Council held a hearing on the legislation, which, should it pass, would affect the Public High School League (PSAL) and Catholic School League, among others.

One of the bill’s main objectives is to have professionals determine whether or not a player has a concussion rather than leaving it up to the teams’ coaches.

“Football teaches teamwork and sportsmanship, builds character and keeps our children active, but safety has to be prioritized before winning games,” said Levin. “It has been well-documented that concussions are a serious issue at all levels of youth football and we must take action to protect our children. This legislation will take the health and well-being of our children out of the hands of coaches and into those of medical professionals.”

“Repeated concussions can cause lifelong health injuries especially when the brain does not have time to heal,” added Councilmember Corey Johnson, another proponent of the bill, during the hearing.

In addition to having doctors in attendance at every game, a corresponding bill was also introduced by Levin, which would track injuries sustained during youth sports activities, and analyze how injuries may affect children’s’ behavior and grades.

However, those that oppose the act believe that it could prove too costly, resulting in a dip in registration in leagues as well as causing smaller ones to shut down.

“A number of our youth football teams are based in New York City’s most under-served and economically disadvantaged neighborhoods,” said Parks Deputy Commissioner Liam Kavanagh at the hearing. “Requiring that a doctor or athletic trainer be present at every youth tackle football game or practice may be cost-prohibitive for these teams and threaten their existence.”

Local youth football leagues have chimed in on the proposal. Executive Director of Public Relations for Parkville Youth Organization (PYO) Bob Cavaliere believes the idea offers more problems than solutions.

“Having a physician on field at all times, we’re talking about 10 of our teams that practice. Then they play five games a week. What would a doctor charge for being present during that time and who would pay for it? We’re talking big bucks,” he said. “It would be a wonderful thing with no cost involved. But the money we’re talking about would be astronomical. Some doctors charge patients over $100 just for being in the office for a few minutes. Imagine a doctor standing on the field for games that last over two hours.”

Meanwhile, Dyker Heights Athletic Association President Peter McCarthy acknowledged the concerns of each scenario.

“We don’t play tackle football in our league. We play flag football. But with the increased concussions among kids, I agree with the act,” he said. “I understand the whole act since everyone is concerned for the kids, but I agree it is costly to have doctors at games and practices, especially for community programs, unless there’s some way of aiding these programs with cost.”

Despite the financial concerns, Levin believes it’s a bill that must be passed. “Their safety has to come before anything else,” he said.

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